The Top of St. Thomas Becket’s Skull

The martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket has a been a popular subject for artists from the middle ages to the 20th century, but one detail of the murder stands out in a few depictions. These show the top of the saints skull being shorn off by the first blow, like so: And: And: Medieval art…

The Pierced Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Is the Blessed Mother a martyr? St. Bernard of Clairvaux thought so. Building on the prophesy of Simeon that a sword would pierce her heart, he preached that “only by passing through your heart could the sword enter the flesh of your Son…. Thus the violence of sorrow has cut through your heart, and we rightly…

St. Denis’s Wonderful Talking Head

St. Denis was the Bishop of Paris in the 3rd century, and his success in converting the local pagans was met with alarm by the Roman governor. Along with two companions, Rusticus and Eleutherius*, he was imprisoned, possibly during the Decian persecution in the 250s. This must have been one of those persecutions that some say…

Body Candles and Bent Coins: Ancient Devotions to the Saints

A story is told in the Life of St. Gotthard of a priest in the 12th century named Folcward who met a poor women with a dying child. He urged the woman to make a vow to St. Gotthard for the boy’s recovery, and seal it with the promise of a candle the length of the boy…

Peter of Verona Exorcises a Statue

Four scenes from the life of St. Peter of Verona, also known as Peter Martyr, are depicted in frescoes at the Portinari Chapel, at the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, Milan. One of these shows an incident from his life in which he exorcised a possessed statue of the infant Jesus and the Blessed Mother, complete with devil…